Mac’n’Cheese

macncheeseSign on the front of Daily Delicatessen, a restaurant on Liteiny Prospect, in downtown Petersburg, that purports to serve “autherican american [sic] cuisine.” Photo by the Russian Reader

A Democratic majority will not bring back the eleven Jewish people in Pittsburgh, massacred while they prayed. Or the two Black people gunned down days before at a Kroger grocery store in Kentucky. It won’t fully stop the relentless attacks against immigrants in America.

But on Sunday evening, Pittsburgh mourners—angry and broken-hearted like us—chanted “Vote! Vote! Vote!” They understand the magnitude of the midterm election six days from today: that it affords us the chance to forge a powerful bulwark against Donald Trump’s hate and hold accountable the Republicans who have been complicit in every step of his toxic, self-serving, and destructive agenda. We must offer a path out of the darkness.
—Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, excerpted from a Moveon.org campaign email

The path that the avowed democratic socialist Ocasio-Cortez offers out of the darkness is a “Democratic majority.” The sad thing is that, given the sluggish staying of the stagnant course and unchange the DNC and, thus, the Democratic Party have represented my entire life (I was born in 1967, one year before the disastrous 1968 Democratic Party convention in Chicago), I think we would be fools to trust them to hold anyone accountable for anything, much less Don Trump and the Falangists.

They certainly don’t ever hold themselves accountable for anything.

In any case, it’s been clear for two decades, at least, that most Americans don’t want either the now full-blown fascism of the former Republican Party or the so-called centrism of the Democratic Party, whatever face you put on it, even the handsome face of the otherwise utterly likable Barack Obama, a former community organizer who should have know better than to do half the things he did while in the White House, and who should have done many things he didn’t even contemplate doing.

What we need is actual democratic socialism, as fought for by an actual socialist party.

We also need an actual labor party, whose agenda is driven by progressive trade unions and their members.

And a party for small-c conservatives, not fascists.

And a green party that is not run by people who think it’s okay to fly to Moscow and have dinner with Putin.

And a libertarian party whose leaders and rank-and-file are true to actual libertarian principles, instead of being eager to make alliances with the falangists.

And a centrist party for people whose cup of tea is Obama and Hillary Clinton, warts and all.

We could also use a few regional parties, for folks who think the South, the Midwest, etc., are essences in themselves and need special representation in Congress.

And an agricultural party, to protect our farmers all over our great land.

In short, we need a parliamentary democracy. To that end, we need a presidency whose powers are much reduced, and a president who is elected by a straightline popular vote, not by an electoral college.

This would be an actual path out of the darkness, because a multi-party democracy and a weakened presidency would make it nearly impossible for what we have been witnessing lately—a lying, vicious clown, who is probably a Kremlin stooge, smashing our country to bits on behalf of his sponsors and a increasingly rabid white nationalist minority—to happen again.

So, go and vote a straight Democratic ticket on Tuesday. It won’t save us from the darkness, because with our absurdly outmoded political system, rigged to protect the tiny ruling class and its interests, our faith in leaderism and lesser evilism, our nearly perennial committment to racism, savagery, and barbarism at home and abroad, and our preference for policing over politics, we are the darkness.

P.S. We also need to ditch the Supreme Court in its present untenable form: political appointees disguised as nine wise mandarins of justice, seated for life, making a mockery of the law. In a real democracy, we would elect Supreme Court justices to one-time eight-year terms by popular vote, and the vetting they would get before being put on the ballot—conducted by a panel of lawyers, journalists, and ordinary citizens, and broadcast live on TV and the internet—would ensure we actually knew what they stood for before we voted them up or down, end of story. {TRR}

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Grigorii Golosov: Democracy without Democrats in Russia

Democracy without Democrats: The Prospects for Parliamentarism 
Under a well-functioning system, even the current parties can be a good defense against autocrats
Grigorii Golosov
Republic
August 25, 2017

As hopes for Russia’s becoming a democratic country in the foreseeable future fade, the question of the institutional structure of a future Russian democracy is overstated. Even the best-intentioned commentators often argue that none of the conventional mechanisms fit Russia. A presidential system would not do, because it concentrates too much power in the hands of one man and his retinue, leading directly to dictatorship. That sounds plausible. However, as Alexander Morozov recently wrote on Facebook, a parliamentary system would not do, either. If I understood him correctly, his main argument was that the roster of political players would be maintained under this system, and so “the same fools from the current parliamentary parties would remain in power.” That also sounds plausible.

One of the problems with such dramatic assessments is obvious. They imply that Russia’s current political trajectory is unique, and the systems of governance tested and proven workable in other countries would thus never function in Russia. Theoretically, we cannot exclude such options. North Korea, for example, has now generated a political configuration I am willing to acknowledge unique both in terms of structure and possible consequences. However, there is no mystery as to the miserable country’s future. If it is destined to rid itself of the Kim dynasty, it will have to associate itself with South Korea under conditions acceptable to China and the US. It would be pointless to go into the details, but the overall picture is quite clear.

Russia is a different story. I do not see anything unique about Russia’s circumstances. By world standards, we have a quite ordinary authoritarian regime. All the signs point to the fact the regime is in the upward phase of its trajectory, that is, in the process of consolidating. We are thus unable to say anything definite about how it will cease to exist.  Hardcore opposition politicians (of whom, I think, Alexei Navalny is the last man standing) have it simpler than analysts. Politicians simply fight the good fight, using any means available. They do not need to gaze far into the future. But analysts do need to see into the future and would like to see in the future. They are not very good at it, however.

Hence the cognitive error they make, an error best described by the classic metaphor of the black box. There is an initial state and a set of possible outcomes, but the box conceals its interior from us, what is in the middle. Since the initial state makes optimism groundless and has not even fully manifested itself, an optimistic assessment of possible outcomes seems implausible. It is impossible to avoid the error, but we can minimize its consequences if we ignore what might be inside the black box, that is, if we temporarily forget about “progressive” generals, lizards from the planet Niburu, and even about Navalny and other possible drivers of democratization in Russia. Instead, we should focus on democracy’s structural features.

Yet, the first hypothesis we have to take into account is that liberal democracy, regardless of its institutional shape, entrusts the decision of who holds power to a majority of voters. Hence, if the absolute majority of votes in an election are conferred on a potential dictator or his party, the return to authoritarianism is a question of time, and it matters not a whit whether the potential dictator holds the office of president or prime minister. Recent events in Turkey vividly bear this out. The country’s parliamentary system, which had existed for several decades, was unable to withstand a head-on collision with a single-party monopoly. The fact that Erdogan did indeed become the full-fledged president merely capped off the transformation, but the process itself took place within the parliamentary system.

The Turkish Parliament in Ankara. Photo courtesy of Umit Bektas/Reuters

It follows that the main danger to a democracy under a parliamentary system consists not in the absence of succession among parliamentary elites, but in the establishment and long-term reproduction of a political monopoly in parliament. The experience of many countries, from Eastern Europe, where it was neutralized by the project of joining the EU, to Africa, where it has not been neutralized and has caused efforts at democratization to fail on several occasions, testifies to the fact that the danger is quite real. It is natural, after all, that at the first elections after democratization people vote en masse for the most persuasive opposition party and hand it a majority in parliament. The country’s main democrat then becomes a dictator, since there is no institutional counterbalance to prevent it.

This should make us look at the prospects of the current parliamentary parties after democratization.  One of them, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), is bound to survive, while two others, the so-called Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) and the so-called party of power, United Russia, have good chances of surviving. It is unlikely they would enjoy idyllic relations with a new regime. Then, as becomes clear from the argument I have made, above, the survival of these parties would serve as a positive factor in democratization. They themselves are unlikely to become advocates of democracy, but that does not matter. What matters is that their presence in parliament, if it is considerable, would help restrain the authoritarian impulses of the new ruling group, if they manifest themselves.

I believe the MPs in the current parliamentary parties are neither fools in the mundane nor the political sense. Mainly, they are cunning, experienced wheeler-dealers who have managed to maintain their places at the top of Russia’s turbulent political heap. Clearly, however, they have used their tenure in parliament to preserve features of the current system that benefit them. In other words, they would lobby against progress under a new system, and this would indeed inject a hefty dose of stupidity into the work of building democracy in Russia. The dilemma is this. To stave off the new regime’s authoritarian impulses, they would have to be influential, but they would fritter away their influence on impeding reform.

Hence, I am inclined to think that a semi-presidential system would be optimal in a democratic Russia. The president would have serious powers, albeit powers severely limited by the constitution. Structurally speaking, it would approximate the European parliamentary system more than the presidential system of the US and most Latin American countries. However, it is now utterly useless to go into the details of this system, because they would depend greatly on the transition to democracy, now concealed from us by our imaginary black box.

However, I do not see any particular problems with a parliamentary system in a future Russia. Democracy is not only the rule of “democrats” as a party (a truth we in Russia have already swallowed, it seems), but nor is it necessarily the rule of politicans who adhere to democratic views. The presence of such politicians is extremely beneficial. But views are a shaky thing, and what matters more in a democracy is the structure of political competition. We know several examples of successful democratization, from late eighteenth-century France to modern Bangladesh, in which the role of card-carrying democrats in the initial state of the transition was extremely modest, and the main fight took place among several dictatorial factions. What mattered was that they successfully prevented each other from establishing a new dictatorship.

Grigorii Golosov is a political scientist and professor at the European University in St. Petersburg. Translated by the Russian Reader